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MINNEAPOLIS – Game 5 of the 2017 WNBA Finals was very similar to a marathon. The Minnesota Lynx sprinted out to an early advantage. The Los Angeles Sparks closed the distance on several occasions but never obtained the lead despite an all-out sprint late which had the home fans uneasy in their seats.
However, the Lynx figuratively crossed the finish line first, preventing the Sparks from repeating as champs while capturing their fourth championship in seven seasons with an 85-76 home victory on October 4.
On her way to being named Finals MVP, Sylvia Fowles, who was also the regular season MVP, collected 17 points, 20 rebounds and three blocks for Minnesota, which lost Game 5 to Los Angeles in the Finals last year.
“Last year in Game 5, we lost two rebounds and that hurt me for a long, long time,” Fowles said. “We came in at the beginning of the season and were like look ‘we lost on rebounds’ so that was at the top of my mind going into Game 5. I said if I don’t do anything else, I better rebound.”
After leading by eight with 55 seconds left, the Lynx got sloppy with the ball. First Lindsay Whalen (17 points, eight assists) was stripped near halfcourt by Odyssey Sims, who scored a breakaway layup for a 79-73 score. Then Fowles made a pass that Chelsea Gray (15 points, eight assists) stole and Sims (14 points) converted into a three-point play with 34 seconds left, resulting in a one-possession game.
The meltdown almost continued on the Lynx next possession but Seimone Augustus (14 points, six boards, six assists) saved the ball from going into the backcourt and Maya Moore (18 points, 10 rebounds) nailed a running jumper (also very risky with so much time left) from the foul line that hit all net for an 81-76 edge with 26 seconds to go.
“I wasn’t stressed at all,” said Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve with a smirk. “I knew we had it. We wanted to kind of bait them into it. We got trapped a little bit and baited them into thinking they had a chance and ripped it right from them.”
On the other end, Fowles corralled Sims’ missed 3-pointer and the Lynx added four free throws to avenge last season’s loss.
Rebekkah Brunson, who won her fifth WNBA title, scored eight of her 13 points in the first quarter when Minnesota rushed out to a 7-0 lead. But the Sparks closed the quarter well and only trailed 21-19 entering the second period, thanks to a floater by Candace Parker (19 points, 15 rebounds, five assists and four blocks) at the buzzer.
Before halftime, the Lynx rebuilt their cushion to 41-35. They extended their lead to 12 in the third but Los Angeles closed well once again, entering the final period down just 60-56.
Last year’s hero Nneka Ogwumike had 11 points before fouling out in the fourth quarter.